Difference between a Scythe and a Sickle

Published on November 25, 2016

Agriculture played an important role in the prosperity and growth of civilizations. Two of the most ancient agricultural tools that helped man live off the land are sickles and scythes. These tools look similar and mistaking one for the other is not hard.

Definitions

Scythe vs Sickle
A collection of scythes with various handle placements.

A scythe is an agricultural tool used for cutting grass and harvesting crops. It was invented around 500 BC and the Europeans started using scythes in the 12th and 13th century for cutting hay. The scythe grew in popularity during the 16th century, as it was more efficient than a sickle and eventually replaced it.

The modern scythe has a curved steel blade measuring 24 to 35 inches (60-90 centimeters) in length mounted on the lower end of the shaft (called a snaith) at a 90-degree angle. The S-shaped shaft is usually 67 inches (170 centimeters) long and is traditionally made of wood or metal. Simpler scythe designs have a straight shaft with offset handles. Newer ones have one or two handles attached at right angles to the shaft. One handle is near the end with the blade, with a second handle near the middle of the shaft. Both handles are usually adjustable.

sickle
A sickle

The sickle is an ancient agricultural hand tool with a curved blade. It was typically for gathering grain crops or mowing dried hay for livestock feed. The sickle evolved into several variants across regions, from the primitive bone and wood sickles of the Stone Age to the smooth-edged steel sickles of the Iron Age. This array of sickle variants can be classified in two groups: the serrated (saw-like edge) blades and the smooth blades.

The inner curve of a sickle is sharp and works on the base of the crop, gathering and slicing the stems at the same time. The crops are either held by one hand into a bunch or left standing free. When one hand is holding the crops, the swiping action goes right to left towards the worker. When the crops are freestanding, the swing comes from the opposite direction.

In some parts of the world the sickle is a traditional weapon. The Madurese people of Indonesia has the chlurit or clurit used for cooking and fighting while the Japanese have the kusarigama, and the Filipinos have the kama. Other names for the sickle are bagging hook, grasshook, rip-hook, reaping hook, swap hook, and brishing hook.

Scythe vs Sickle

So what’s the difference between a scythe and sickle? They both played important roles in the development of agriculture since prehistoric times. While both are used for harvesting crops and cutting grass, the sickle is the forerunner of the scythe.

The scythe is longer than sickle, with a shaft typically measuring 67 inches (170 centimeters) long. It has two handles attached to the shaft at a 90-degree angle and requires both hands to use. A sickle, however, is held with one hand while the other holds crops in place. The scythe is moved steadily from left to right to cut the grass or crops on the ground, taking more skill and body movement than the smaller, shorter sickle.

Comparison Chart

Scythe Sickle
Requires two hands and more body movement Requires only one hand to use
Invented around 500 BC Invented around 18000 to 8000 BC
Has a bigger blade for efficient cutting Has a smaller blade

Video

Watch this YouTube video of a sickle and a scythe to see which is better for cutting crops.